A passion for music and a desire to help others has guided CSU Stanislaus alumna Rachel Grider to strive for excellence in the face of adversity. Grider, who is blind, has built a successful career both in academics and the professional world, and she has continued to grow as a performer.
On March 14, Grider will return to the CSU Stanislaus campus to perform a recital of 19th-century Russian songs and arias in the Bernell and Flora Snider Music Recital Hall.
“Even when I am faced with challenges, I can find new opportunities to grow and learn,” she said. “I feel quite accomplished now that the faculty who gave me my first serious music education consider me a professional and have invited me back to give a vocal recital.”
Grider said her journey as a student has been especially rewarding. She graduated from CSU Stanislaus in 2011 with bachelor’s degrees in vocal performance and in composition, and then completed master’s degrees in voice performance and in music theory pedagogy at the prestigious Peabody Conservatory at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
Grider, a Modesto native, attended the CSU Stanislaus Summer Music Camp during each of her four years at Thomas Downey High School. During that time, she established strong relationships with the university’s music faculty, which influenced her decision to attend CSU Stanislaus.
As an undergraduate student, Grider recalls being young and naïve. Her faculty mentors were always available to give advice and encouragement, she said, which fostered much of her growth. They saw her potential and challenged her to excel, which also gave her the confidence she needed to succeed in graduate school.
“I feel that I have always been particularly fortunate to have encouraging professors, especially at CSU Stanislaus,” Grider said. “I grew a lot here, both as a musician and in my independence.”
While attending CSU Stanislaus, Grider was a recipient of the CSU Trustees’ Award for Outstanding Achievement and was recognized as a Rogers Scholar. Her vocal talents also led to the opportunity to perform a leading role with Townsend Opera of Modesto during her junior year.
Deborah Kavasch, chair of the Department of Music at CSU Stanislaus, worked closely with Grider through her undergraduate composition studies.
“Rachel was a really excellent student,” Kavasch said. “She takes on challenges with a great deal of confidence and poise.”
Her graduate studies presented new challenges, as she was less familiar with the Peabody campus and faculty.
“Since I am blind, there were challenges to my teaching a college-level course, which is a requirement of the music pedagogy program,” Grider said. “But I persisted, and ultimately one of my professors saw some potential in me and accepted me as a graduate assistant. Even though there was initially some doubt that I could teach a course at this level because of my lack of vision, the experience became one of my best memories of graduate school.”
Grider’s love for Russian music began in the sixth grade, when she used some extra Christmas money to buy an album of Rachmaninoff piano concertos and was instantly moved by the music. That passion developed further during an undergraduate course in vocal literature at CSU Stanislaus, and her recital will feature some of those first songs that inspired her love for the rarely performed repertoire.
“I think if more people knew about these works, more people would sing them,” said Grider, who performed at a special event at the Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C., during her studies at Peabody. “These songs have a lot of beautiful text painting. Even though the lyrics are in Russian, you can hear what’s happening in the music — the burning of a letter or the sound of a waterfall.”
With her master’s degrees now complete, Grider plans to pursue a doctorate in music theory, composition or voice. She would ultimately like to teach at the college level, and she is also interested in participating in a Fulbright Scholar program in Russia.
And while she rarely talks about her blindness, Grider is interested in starting a local chapter of the National Federation of the Blind, an organization with which she volunteers regularly.
“There are not a lot of resources for blind people in this region,” she said. “Some people are hesitant to ask for help when they need it, and having a local resource would give them the ability to live more independently.”